Tag Archives: Krazy Kat

KRAZY KAT 2020, a 24-Hour Comic from Hotel Royal, New Orleans

KRAZY KAT 2020

I love creating comics out of the 24-Hour Comics challenge. This year, I went to New Orleans to create a work that pays tribute to the landmark comic strip, Krazy Kat, by George Herriman. You can buy the book that I created at the Comics Grinder store right here.

Sample pages from Krazy Kat 2020

One reason I was in New Orleans was to interview Michael Tisserand about his book, Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White. If you’re new to the Krazy Kat comic strip (1913-1944), you may be surprised to discover just how relevant it is today. Krazy Kat is a gender-bending, race-bending whimsical creature who regularly challenges the status quo. Race, and identity, plays a predominant role in Krazy Kat as the main character is engaged in a never-ending journey of following an independent path while dealing with society. I couldn’t resist attempting to create a work in comics that placed Krazy Kat in our own very krazy times. While Krazy Kat did not directly comment on politics, I can only imagine that Herriman might have made an exception for the fantastical and larger-than-life personality that currently occupies the White House. No matter your politics, I believe I’ve captured a moment in time that we can all agree has been unusual.

Hotel Royal courtyard

So, New Orleans is a big deal for me. I have a strong family connection there and it’s great town, one of the great American cities. It is a place that beckons you with its alluring music, food, and hospitality. For this year’s 24-Hour Comics workout, my base of operations was Hotel Royal. I highly recommend it. The service was excellent, the room was spacious and nicely kept, and the location was just perfect. Royal Street places you right in the heart of the French Quarter. If you want to enjoy Jackson Square, you’re only a few blocks away. If you want to party on Bourbon Street, again, it’s very close. Of course, you really don’t have to venture far at all since Royal Street has quite a variety of boutiques, impressive art galleries, and amazing fine dining.

As I tend to end up doing with these 24-Hour Comics adventures, I present to you a short film that captures some of the process and some of the atmosphere during my efforts. Hope you like it. You’ll see that I mapped out my work in a series of storyboards. This became a set of blueprints for what was to evolve. I’ve been having fun with developing this work as well as with calling attention to it. Not too long into the process I decided to post photos of each panel from the book on Instagram. You can view that here. For high quality images all gathered together in a book, please visit the Comics Grinder store.

Sample for Krazy Kat painting series

It became clear to me that each panel could stand alone as a work all by itself so I worked on the assumption that I was not only creating a book but that prints and even more work, like separate paintings, would follow. Be sure to visit the Comics Grinder store as more work becomes available for sale.

 

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Filed under 24 Hour Comics, Comics, Henry Chamberlain

Review and Interview: ‘Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White’ by Michael Tisserand

George Herriman, hiding his race in plain sight.

Krazy Kat began as its own comic strip on October 28, 1913. That was 106 years ago. Much has changed and much remains in transition. For instance, we continue to struggle with race. But let me loop back for a moment. Many of you might be familiar with Krazy Kat and many of you might not. It was nothing short of a national sensation in its heyday, read my people from all strata of society. During that era, the early 20th century, you can argue that the common knowledge base was bigger than it is today while the universal sensitivity towards others was smaller. Today, the level of common knowledge and sensitivity seems to have become inverted. We seem to care more while we know less. That said, Krazy Kat, the comic strip, (1913-1944) held a position in pop culture akin to what Saturday Night Live holds today. Everyone read it, from paperboys to presidents, and it got under people’s skin. And, speaking of skin, race is the tie that binds and is in the background and in the foreground to everything I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the first full length biography of cartoonist George Herriman and one of the best recent biographies in general: Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White, written by Michael Tisserand, published in December of 2016, by HarperCollins.

Krazy Kat and Ignatz in full swing.

Race, and identity, plays a predominant role in Krazy Kat as the main character is engaged in a never-ending journey of following an independent path while dealing with society. Krazy Kat is a cat with no particular gender and no particular purpose, really, other than attempting to find a little romance with Ignatz mouse. Today, you might think this gender-bending scenario would have been too sophisticated for the early 20th century but the comic strip steadily gained in popularity. People’s tastes were generally more raw and unfiltered and that sensibility carried over into the Krazy Kat comic strip. Over time, George Herriman was able to perfect a love triangle between cat, mouse, and dog. It was a wonderfully existential comic strip that especially appealed to intellectuals and inspired everyone from Picasso to Charles Schulz. Through it all, Krazy Kat was a black cat confused over whether it should be black or white.

A life in black and white.

Tisserand takes the reader along a bumpy, often violent and toxic, ride down the American experience byway of cartoonist George Herriman and his family. This is also a story of redemption and transcendence. The guiding refrain we hold onto dearly in America is a belief in resilience, not always quick but something we collectively want to keep alive. We can surprise ourselves, and emerge from tragedy. That said, Americans were living in highly dangerous times regarding race when budding cartoonist George Herriman, of mixed raced, came of age and was establishing himself. Herriman was born in 1880. Consider just one fact about the world that George was born into, as cited by Tisserand in his book: “Louisiana’s total of 313 blacks lynched between 1889 and 1918 was only surpassed by those in Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas.” That appalling and horrific fact alone undeniably makes clear why George and his family ultimately moved from New Orleans in 1889 to Los Angeles. The Herriman family from then on was to pass for white. That decision opened up a whole new world of freedom and opportunity.

Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White

Race back in George’s day, and today, is a complicated subject the deeper you dig. What may seem improbable and unlikely, might add up in proper context. So, I was in New Orleans recently and I got to chat with Michael Tisserand. I put to Michael a question about how Herriman had to tow the line and create comics that followed the racism of the era before he could eventually move on to create what is universally beloved transcendent art. There are no easy answers, he said, and he chose in his book to simply bring out the facts and not try to speculate. That is how he was able to reconcile, or move past, the fact that Herriman did his fair share of racist comics and even wore black face at an event put together by carousing co-workers. These were certainly not Herriman’s proudest moments. Perhaps they were simply moments to get through in order to survive. As they always say, it was another time. Remarkably, Herriman ended up redeeming himself many times over. That would seem to have been the plan all along.

Hiding his true identity was a choice that made sense for George Herriman. And his friends and co-workers were more than happy to follow a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding his heritage. George was simply known as “The Greek.” It wasn’t until decades later, in 1971, when a reporter discovered a birth certificate that labeled Herriman as “colored” that the news finally came out and, even then, it was dismissed and refuted for years. George’s big secret actually became a mixed blessing as it informed his life’s work. As Tisserand describes in vivid detail, Herriman developed what was to become a true work of art. Ahead of its time, and more married to art than commercial success, Krazy Kat became a vessel upon which to speak out about one’s own worth and identity. Krazy Kat was the gender-bending sprite that defied conventional wisdom. In the end, George may have been hiding but he was hiding in plain sight.

Michael provided me with an inspired guided tour of the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans and you can see it in the short film I created. Just click the link above. We went over all the old haunts and residences of the Herriman family and extended relations and friends. Michael was in fine form, engaged with the subject and bringing it to life. This is the same tour that he has provided to notable figures in comics such as Art Spiegelman, creator of the landmark work in comics, Maus; Patrick McDonnell, the creator of the popular comic strip, Mutts; and Paul Karasik, author of the best-selling, How to Read Nancy. Lucky me. I think you’ll enjoy the ride too.

Michael Tisserand

Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White is a 592-page book, available in print and various platforms, published by HarperCollins. Visit Michael Tisserand right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Comics, Interviews